Another fine morning welcomed the pilgrims, with just a tinge of patchy high cloud. How fortunate we are, but how long will it last?

With a relatively short day’s walk to Chalons we were a little later leaving than normal, but we enjoyed the lie in. We backtracked through the village to recross the Marne in order to find a ‘chemin’ route through the middle of the valley rather than following the busy D3 road.

On our way past the church in Matouges we found it, rather unusually, open, so we went inside. It seemed well used and well kept. We couldn’t find anything about its history or its dedication, though it looked likely to be pre-gothic in its simplicity and therefore relatively old.

Church at Matougues

Once back across the Marne we found our ‘chemin’ and began following it east.The dry track made for easy walking on the flat alluvial plain. Every now and again we passed a lake, presumably former gravel diggings but now clearly stocked with coarse fish and seemingly well used by anglers on this lovely Easter Monday.

Easy walking on the Marne flood plain

After a while we passed under the A26 motorway (known as the Autoroute des Anglais).

Au dessous de l’Autoroute des Anglais

Not long after the A26 we turned north up to the Canal Lateral a la Marne, to meet the Via Francigena route from Conde, then followed a very pleasant canal bank walk for most of the way to Chalons.

We meet the canal and the Via Francigena route again

The canal path forms part of a long distance cycle route from Paris to Prague, thanks to European funding, so we decided to walk in single file to avoid repeated requests to move aside to let cyclists pass. Some appeared to think walkers shouldn’t be there, despite signs advising them to look out for pietons!

Cowslips lining the canal path

At around lunchtime a Frenchman out for a walk stopped to ask about our pilgrimage so we took the opportunity to ask him if there were any seats further along the canal where we could eat our sandwiches. He directed us to the nearby village of Saint Martin where we would find seats adjacent to the church…which we did!

As we were about to cross the bridge into Saint Martin a man walking a small dog lost hold of its lead and it started to run off, but Julie quickly speared the loop in its lead with her Leki pole, bringing it up short! Then, just as we crossed the bridge into Saint Martin a red squirrel shot across our path and up a nearby tree. This time, Julie saw it too. The morning’s late start had clearly improved her reflexes!

Lunch outside the church in Saint Martin

Whilst eating our lunch we were thrilled to see not only house martins, but also a swallow – the first for 2022. How welcome they are, all the way from southern Africa! Tom thinks he normally expects to see his first hirundinid between the 9th and 12th April, so these are late! Is that because the migration route is further west via the Donana wetland in southwest Spain? Maybe one of our wildlife trust friends would have a view on this.

Easter Monday lunchtime canal cruise

On returning to the canal we realised we were already in sight of Chalons, where the canal and river Marne come close together and our route took us one block west to swap canal side for riverside walking until we came to the main western entry point into the city.

Chalons in sight further up the canal
Alongside the Marne river coming into Chalons
The mighty Marne river streaming through Chalons

Turning left into the city we soon saw the cathedral of St Etienne which was closed despite its website stating it was open. There were many other disappointed would-be visitors just in the short time we were there. Inside we might have seen the famously beautiful medieval stained glass windows, many dating from the 12th century.

Cathedral of St Etienne one of Chalons’ main attractions, closed!

However, outside the cathedral is an interesting war memorial, including a very long list of ‘morts pour la France’ during WW1, and also many who died in other conflicts such as Afghanistan. This is the first place we have seen memorials to those who died other than in WW1 or WW2, which may have something to do with the fact that there are military bases in this area.

Walking in into the city we were intrigued by notices adjacent to the drain covers, urging people not to throw or empty anything into the drains because it will end up in the river Marne! It doesn’t seem to deter the throwers of cigarette butts though.

Chalons has a large number of half timbered houses which are typical of this region. One of the most flamboyant examples is the tourist office – which was also closed, during a busy holiday period and the start of the main tourist season!

Fortunately, the other main church in Chalons, Notre Dame en Vaux, was open. The church was originally outside the city gates and an earlier building collapsed in the early 1100s. Due to several miracles taking place at the site money was raised to rebuild. What we see today is a mixture of romanesque and early gothic architecture with many richly coloured medieval stained glass windows (which unfortunately are not done justice by the ipad’s camera). The twin towers at the western end are very impressive, and had been visible from some distance out of Chalons, even though the church does not stand on high ground.

Notre Dame en Vaux
Inside Notre Dame en Vaux

Notre Dame en Vaux is recognised as a key destination for pilgrims travelling across Europe on the caminos to Santiago di Compostella and to Rome on the Via Francigena, and as such it has UNESCO status. Although there was no sign of a pilgrim stamp or anyone to do the stamping, there was a notice indicating where in Chalons we might be able to get our pilgrim passes stamped. Perhaps tomorrow when the national holiday is over………

or maybe not?

In the meantime, we still had a couple of hours to wait until we could get into our hotel (because today is a national holiday so reception was closed until 5pm) so there was nothing for it but to sit in the sun in the main square with a drink and a sweet crepe whilst watching the world go by.

The Mairie and cafes in Place du Marechal Foch

In fact, it was so pleasant that we returned later for supper, because all the other restaurants are closed, because it’s a holiday. No-one wants to eat of course, when it’s a holiday, just like no-one wants to visit the cathedral! It was still warm enough to sit outside in the sunshine for the evening – in mid April! But of course, we are now much further south, and getting on for a quarter of the distance from Canterbury to Rome. So we are making progress, but at a pace that is allowing us time to look, listen, and think about what is going on around us.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *